HOW PHOEBE’S CONSPIRACY TRIUMPHED

As they rode homeward Phoebe said thoughtfully:

“Who will break the news to Toby?”

Mr. Spaythe and the governor exchanged glances.

“I think that must be your task, Phoebe,” said the latter. “No one has
done so much for Toby Clark as you, nor has anyone been so instrumental
in establishing his good fortune.”

“I–I don’t think I could do it!” exclaimed Phoebe. “Toby is so proud
and sensitive that he–he might make a fuss, and that would break me
all up.”

Said Mr. Spaythe, after a moment’s thought:

“I’ll make it easy for you, Phoebe. I’ll give a little dinner party at
my house, in Toby’s honor, on Wednesday evening and invite all those
friends who have stood by him during his time of need. Then you can
make a speech and announce the good news.”

“Just the thing,” commented the governor. “Wednesday. That will give
me time to accomplish something I have in mind.”

And so the matter was arranged.

Toby Clark had grown more restless as the day approached when he was
to be tried for stealing Mrs. Ritchie’s box. He knew of the recent
evidence against him–the finding of the money and bonds in his
house–and fully realized that his guilt would appear conclusive to a
jury. He was ashamed to go out of the house except for a brief walk
after dark and whenever he met Mr. Spaythe or Eric at mealtime he would
study their faces for some sign that would indicate hope. They seemed
cheerful enough and laughed and talked as if no tragedy was pending;
but both father and son refrained from mentioning Toby’s trial in any
way. The boy had not seen Phoebe since she had rescued him from the
hoodlums; Sam Parsons kept out of sight; Mr. Holbrook, who used to
visit him regularly, now remained absent, and so poor Toby imagined
himself deserted and neglected by all his friends.

Wednesday noon the banker said at luncheon:

“Toby, I’m giving a little dinner party to-night and I want you to be
present.”

“Oh, sir! I–I—-”

“Not a word, Toby. I won’t listen to any excuses. You will find the
guests old friends and must be prepared to assist me and Eric to
entertain them.”

The boy was astonished. He had never known Mr. Spaythe to entertain
anyone before and this dinner party, given on the eve of Toby’s trial,
seemed to him a cruel mockery. But he could not refuse Mr. Spaythe’s
request, having been a guest in the banker’s house for so long and knew
he must face these people as bravely as he could. He wondered, vaguely,
who would come to the Spaythe dinner party, and toward evening grew
very uneasy and despondent.

The first arrival was Janet Ferguson, and the sight of his old
employer’s daughter did much to relieve his nervousness. Then came
Nathalie Cameron and Lucy Hunter and following them closely he heard
the eager voices of “the Daring tribe,” including Miss Eliot, Phoebe,
Becky and Don. These were first greeted by Mr. Spaythe and Eric and
then engaged Toby in conversation, surrounding him in a group–as if
he were the hero of the occasion, he reflected bitterly, instead of an
accused criminal in danger of a prison sentence!

From his seat in the long drawing-room Toby saw Mr. Holbrook arrive,
and then Sam Parsons and Will Chandler–surely a mixed assemblage. Mr.
Spaythe had refrained from inviting Hazel Chandler and Dave Hunter,
thinking the ordeal would be too severe for them. Finally came Doris
and Allerton Randolph and then Mr. Fellows, the editor, and with these
the list of guests seemed complete, for they were all straightway
ushered into the dining-room to partake of an elaborate feast.

Toby was in a daze. He could not understand it at all. On all sides
were bright and happy faces and no one seemed to remember that on the
morrow he was to be tried in open court as a thief.

With the dessert Mr. Spaythe looked up and said casually, but in a
voice loud enough for all to hear:

“I believe Phoebe Daring has a few remarks to make to us, and this
seems a good opportunity to hear her.”

Phoebe rose from her seat, rather red and embarrassed at first, as she
marked the sudden silence around the table and the earnest looks turned
upon her. But she resolved not to falter in the task she had undertaken.

“This is a joyful occasion,” she began, very solemnly–so solemnly
that Becky giggled. “We have met, at Mr. Spaythe’s kind invitation, to
extend congratulations to our friend Toby Clark.”

Don thought this a good time to yell “Bravo!” but the reproachful look
of his sister promptly “squelched” him. Toby stared at Phoebe in
wonder, but she refused to meet his pleading gaze.

“It is a joyful occasion,” she resumed, “because the absurd charge
trumped up against Toby has been withdrawn, as perhaps you all know.”
It was news to Toby, indeed! “Mrs. Ritchie has issued a signed
statement, which Mr. Fellows is going to print in the paper, saying
that she was mistaken about her box being stolen, as it was merely
mislaid. Her property has all been recovered and she is very sorry that
poor Toby was ever accused of a crime that neither he nor anyone else
ever committed.”




There was something of a sensation around the table, for few had known
of this statement until now. Toby was trying hard to comprehend his
good fortune. He could no longer see Phoebe because his eyes were full
of tears.

“Just before I came here this evening,” continued the girl, “I
received a telegram from our governor, dated from the state capital.
I will read it to you.” She unfolded a telegram and read in a clear,
deliberate voice: “‘Probate Judge Fordyce to-day appointed Duncan
Spaythe administrator of the estate of Toby Clark, and his guardian.
Congratulations to all concerned.’”

An intense silence followed. A secret was here disclosed that had been
unknown by any but Phoebe and the banker. Curious looks were cast upon
the girl and then upon Toby. The lame boy half rose from his chair,
pallid and shaking in every limb.

“I–I haven’t any estate,” he said. “It’s all a–a–cruel–joke! I—-”

“Sit down, please,” said Phoebe. “I believe you were as ignorant as the
others–as we all have been until recently–concerning this estate,
which was bequeathed you by your father, Alonzo Clark. The preposterous
charge against you led us to a rigid investigation of the Clark family
history, and we–your friends–discovered that a certain mining
property once owned by your father and left to you by his will, had
become very valuable and for the past seven years has been paying you
big dividends. So in your case trouble has led to prosperity. As you
are not yet of age, it was necessary that an administrator and guardian
for you be appointed by the court. The governor kindly interested
himself in this matter, with the result that Mr. Spaythe is now your
guardian and the custodian of all the money belonging to you.”

Phoebe, quite breathless now, sat down. Mr. Spaythe rose from his chair
and was greeted with cheers.

“Around this table,” said he, “are gathered only loyal friends of Toby
Clark–those who have supported him and watched over his interests
during the past two months, the darkest period in his young life.
Especially do I wish to congratulate Phoebe Daring and the energetic
organizers and officers of the Toby Clark Marching Club for their
good work on behalf of our young friend, who has so unjustly suffered
because of a false accusation. But Toby’s troubles are over, now; for
all time, I hope. Once more his good name stands unsullied in the eyes
of the world. He has proved his mental caliber and courage by the manly
way in which he has faced the wicked charge brought against him. With
ample means, such as he now possesses, to back his highest ambitions, I
predict that Toby Clark will in time become a great man and a power in
our little community.”

The banker stood bowing until the thunderous applause that greeted his
speech subsided. Becky smashed a plate by pounding it upon the table
and no one reproved her. Then she pinched Don’s leg and his howl merely
increased the sounds of jubilation. When, at last, comparative quiet
reigned, Mr. Spaythe said:

“We will now hear from Toby Clark.”

Toby, still bewildered but trying to grasp the reality of the good
fortune that had befallen him, responded in a few broken words:

“You won’t hear much from me,” he said, “because my heart is too full
for anything but gratitude for the kind friends who have done so much
for me. I wasn’t worth all your interest in me and trouble on my
account, you know; but I’ll try to be more worthy in the future. I–I’m
very happy and–I–I thank you all!”

More wild applause, and then Don’s voice was heard asking:

“Say, who gave the Marching Club that fifty dollars?”

“I did,” replied Mr. Spaythe, “and it was the best fifty I ever
invested. But,” he added with a smile, “I’ve an idea of charging it to
the account of Toby Clark.”

Here Mr. Holbrook rose to his feet.

“Toby Clark once applied to me for a position in my office,” he said,
“and I was obliged to refuse him. But as my business is growing nicely
I would now like to have him for my clerk.”

“No,” said Toby, with something of his old-time whimsical humor,
“I must refuse the nomination, with thanks. I’m going to college.
Some day, though, I’ll be a lawyer, too, Mr. Holbrook, and then–who
knows?–we may go into partnership together.”